The governing body should include members who are or have been eligible to receive legal assistance from the legal aid organization.
The governing body will have better insights into the legal needs of the communities it serves if its membership includes persons who have directly experienced those needs. For many legal aid organizations, a primary criterion for eligibility for service on the governing body will be the applicant's financial means. In order to have governing body members who understand the challenges of poverty, the governing body should include members who are or have been financially eligible for the organization's services. Other organizations may target a particular population, such as the elderly, persons with disabilities, or specific substantive issues such as access to health care, without regard to the financial means of the persons served. Such specialized organizations should, if practicable, include members of the population served on their governing body.
Supporting Full Participation by Representatives of the Client Community
The governing body should be aware of potential barriers to full participation by representatives of the client community and should take steps to help overcome those barriers. Governing body members who have experienced poverty or are from a client community that the organization is serving will have insight and knowledge that professional members of the governing body may lack. Some client representatives, however, may feel intimidated by attorneys on the governing body and may be unfamiliar with legal terminology and the operation of the legal system germane to decisions that the governing body needs to make. As a result, the organization and the governing body must act to overcome any impediments to full communication among governing body members.
A number of strategies may enhance effective communication and full participation on the governing body by all members. The organization should offer orientation and ongoing training of community members about its operations, explaining the legal system, particularly as it affects client communities, and discussing issues that affect the delivery ofSome organizations hold separate meetings of community members before regularly scheduled governing body meetings in order to answer questions and ensure that all members are fully prepared to participate and present their insights during the governing body meeting.
The organization should consider including members of the governing body in its cultural competence trainings, which are designed to facilitate better communication acrossSocial events that stimulate informal interaction among governing body members can also increase familiarity and trust that foster ease of communication in formal meetings.
A person's lack of economic resources may hinder full participation in the governing body if a person cannot pay for childcare while attending meetings, take off work without losing wages, or afford either the necessary technology tools or transportation to attend meetings. The organization should adopt clear policies that provide for reimbursement or other means of paying reasonable expenses associated with client representatives' participation on the governing body and should schedule governing body and committee meetings to facilitate all members' attendance, and the policy should set forth the criteria to determine eligibility for such compensation.
Other Means for Involvement of Client-Eligible Persons
Some legal aid organizations may encounter legal or institutional impediments to having service-eligible members on the governing body. A legal aid organization that is part of a larger organization that exists for a variety of purposes, in addition to representing client communities in civil legal matters, may find it impractical or impossible to include client-eligible persons on its governing body. The organization should nevertheless strive to maintain other means of involving persons from the client community, so that the organization's policies maximize the effectiveness of its service to its clients. Such an organization may, for example, create a client advisory committee to provide advice about delivery structure, priorities, and other policy matters affecting assistance to client communities.